Gary Riedel “fell in love” with grain farming as a teenager while his dad was helping a neighbor shell corn in the Missouri river bottom.
Now 75, Riedel is planting his 51st crop of soybean and corn. Core values guide him as a farmer, family man and agricultural leader. He recently was inducted into the Missouri Soybean Hall of Fame.
Riedel grew up on a dairy farm near Augusta, Mo. The daily milking pushed his father to sell the dairy and buy a grain farm south of Centralia in 1962.
The oldest of four children, Riedel farmed alongside his father until he and his wife bought out the older Riedel’s portion of the farm. The older Riedel started with 293 acres of fertile flat land and two-cylinder tractors.
Riedel commuted from the farm to University of Missouri campus and earned a degree in field crops (now agronomy) in 1966. After graduation, he served two years, including a tour of duty in Germany, as a missile maintenance man in the U.S. Army before returning to the farm.
Embracing new tech
Despite building the farm on old-fashioned values, Riedel keeps equipment and technology updated. He admits that technology “can be frustrating for an old-timer like me,” but he enjoys the challenge and rewards.
Riedel reads farm magazines nightly to stay abreast of changes. He’s thinking about buying a drone to scout crops and pinpoint spray herbicides. Of all the changes he has seen in agricultural technology, he finds the ability to send GPS information from an iPad to be the most transformative.
Riedel says organization is key to a successful planting season. Winter maintenance on planters, drills and tractors prevent downtime during the busy season.
Yet, flexibility also remains vital when Mother Nature intervenes, machinery breaks and the farm economy changes.
Controlling the size of the farm allows him to avoid hiring outside help. He manages the farm — still participating in the planting, hauling, equipment maintenance, harvesting and much of the spraying — alongside his cousin Curtis Nadler and son-in-law Joe Haynes. “I don’t want to be run by my farm,” Riedel says. “I want to run it.”
The Boone and Audrain County farmer downsized his operation to 2,300 acres several years ago because it was beginning to encroach on time for family, church and community. The birth of his first grandchild called for changes that would leave time for seven more grandkids and Cardinals baseball.
Riedel rotates soybeans and corn annually and double-crops soybeans after wheat. He no-till drills soybeans into cornstalk residue. His soybeans averaged 63.8 bushels per acre last year. He had 135 acres that produced 72 bushels per acre.
Corn averaged 212 bushels to the acre in 2017. He plants corn in strips that warm and dry quicker in the spring. This promotes faster germination. “That’s been a big key in our success,” he says. “It makes a believer out of you.”
Riedel uses a dedicated bean drill and dedicated corn planter. This gives him flexibility to plant when and where he needs to. He usually plants 3.7 and 3.9 early maturing soybean varieties and a full-season late variety 4.3 soybean.
He uses a 30,000- to 34,000-seeding rate for corn. He remembers when he started farming, seeding rates were 16,000 per acre, and 120 bushels per acre was considered excellent yield.
Today, he plants 30-inch rows on corn and 7.5-inch rows on beans for quicker canopies. Over the years, he has used many brands of corn, with Pioneer as his 2019 choice. He does not use programmed variable-rate seeding, instead manually tweaking rates with the twist of a dial as he plants.
He grid samples the land every three to four years. He believes in making sure the land is well-nourished.
“Fertility is very important,” he says. “We used to unknowingly starve soybeans. Nobody realized how much potash beans take off the land. It’s important to put back what you take off.”
He uses Ilevo on every bushel of seed beans for better yields, plus protection against sudden death syndrome. “Those beans are essential to my farm and my profit. I protect them as best I can,” he says.
Riedel applies fungicides on all corn, wheat and some soybeans. He finds fungicides delay harvest, keeping crops greener for three to four days longer than untreated crops, but still swears by them, noting, “They work slicker than a whistle.” The plant puts extra weight in the kernels during the extended life.
He plants wheat on rougher ground and double-crops soybean after the wheat harvest.
This year’s planting season began with a whirlwind of planting, followed by drenching rain. It’s still one of his two favorite tasks: planting and harvest. “One is filled with promise. The other is fulfillment,” he says.
In the end, weather, technology and knowledge play second to faith. When asked what irrigation method he uses, he folds his hand in prayer and looks upward. “That’s my irrigation system,” he says.
“My faith is the reason I sleep at night,” he says.
Geist writes from Monroe City, Mo.